The best loop hikes in the Smokies

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of March 12-18, 1998
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The best loop hikes in the Smokies

The best loop hikes in the Smokies
Question: My wife and I will be visiting her parents in Lexington, North Carolina, and we would like to spend a few days hiking in the nearby Smoky Mountain National Park. Any suggestions on some good loop hikes or sections of the AT that are supported by shuttle services as we only have one vehicle? Also, we would like to squeeze in a day of whitewater rafting. Any suggestions?

Ed Peace
Lake Jackson, Texas

Adventure Adviser: If you have time before your trip, you may want check out our comprehensive story on Great Smoky Mountain National Park titled “Southern Exposure." If you don’t have access to the web, you can also order a back issue by sending a $6.50 check to Outside Back Issues, 400 Market St., Santa Fe, NM, 87501.

One trail that comes highly recommended for its spectacular vantage point of the park is the Gregory Bald loop. Situated in a rough, far-removed southeast corner of the Smokies, 15-mile Gregory Bald loop is one of the most exceptional hikes in the whole park, plus, it’s a loop so you don’t have to deal with time-consuming shuttle services. The route involves four trails, Twentymile, Long Hungry Ridge, Gregory Bald, and Wolf Ridge, and it has three streamside campsites if you don’t want to take the entire 15 miles in one day. At the top of Gregory Bald, you’ll have a peaceful, 100-mile vista to haze-shrouded ridges, and deep, cool forests. For details on how to find the trailhead, call the Twentymile Ranger Station at 704-498-2327. For general park information call 423-436-1200.

Few of the park’s streams and rivers are deep or wide enough for paddling, but Nantahala Outdoor Center, the southeast’s premier rafting, kayaking, and canoeing operation, is only 13 miles southwest of the park. A popular trip they run for beginners is on the Chattooga, a National Wild and Scenic river famous for its cameo appearances in the movie Deliverance. If you’d like something a little wilder and woollier, call NOC for further information (800-232-7238).

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